The fight for public school innovation and school choice has officially boiled over. With rapidly growing enrollment at Ohio’s over 300 charter schools, progressive school options like the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) are under heavy attack by those who fear and feel threatened by schools that are breaking away from the traditional model. As a result, a number of false narratives have emerged in the media.
In hundreds of recent articles and thousands of social media comments, you’ll read claims from the anti-school-choice gang that ECOT is supposedly costing Ohio’s taxpayers millions of dollars and “siphoning” away money from traditional school districts by drawing students and funding from brick-and-mortar institutions. These old school agenda-pushers incessantly point out how many ECOT students fail to finish high school within four years compared to the national on-time graduation rate, which is a stale, simple-minded measure of evaluating public school success. This antiquated calculation fails to utilize simple regression analysis allowing us to consider a number of critical variables that affect graduation rates. Any data scientist worth their salt would immediately dismiss this measure and more importantly, how it’s being translated by the anti-school-choice gang.
So to all the the old school protectionist politicians, self-proclaimed "thought leaders" in education, politically bent think tanks, and the anti-school-choice media out there pushing your divisive "us vs. them" traditional vs. charter school agenda, I say, "Buckle up. Class is now in session."
What the anti-choicers won't tell you is that the vast majority of ECOT students don’t enroll there until high school. They also won't report that 65% of ECOT high schoolers are ALREADY at least a year behind before they even enroll. This poses a number of problems with the on-time graduation rate measure. ECOT accepts students who have fallen behind in other schools, and helps many of them achieve their diplomas when other schools could not or chose not to. Even if graduation happens a little late by traditional definitions, the fact that these students pursue alternatives to finish school at all should be applauded. ECOT welcomes them (along with the default penalty for their on-time graduation rate statistic) while the traditional schools that failed these students get a positive bump on the same stat for forsaking them—imagine that. ECOT is taking the flack for accepting left-behind students, even though other schools were responsible for letting these students fall behind in the first place.
This is just one of many reasons why the on-time graduation rate is hollow for comparison’s sake. It’s critical for readers to know the facts behind these statistics, because the greatest achievements of online charter schools like ECOT and its students are totally dismissed in this biased reporting. Apparently, these kids just don’t count unless they graduate within four years, and online schools just aren’t successful unless they somehow undo the academic delays and difficulties that can drive students out of public schools in the first place. It's insulting, it’s intentional, and it's enough already.
Instead of hurling rates and statistics without bothering to look behind the curtain, those claiming to care about students and their Ohio public schools should be asking real questions like:
- Why are so many students enrolling in ECOT?
- Why are students falling so far behind before they turn to ECOT?
- What is the true cost or savings to the taxpayer?
- And who cares, anyway?
Let’s begin to answer these questions.
THE CHOICES OHIOANS ARE MAKING
Ohioans choose ECOT over other school options for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common—and perhaps one of the most relevant to the questions above—is bullying. Bullying is a wildly out-of-control epidemic in our public education system, and nearly half of all ECOT students have been victims of bullying. (In fact, bullying might be the reason why many students are falling behind before they get to ECOT, as we’ll discuss below). Despite the best efforts at prevention, the problem continues to escalate; sometimes with the most tragic of human consequences. But the biggest untold story of bullying is that it takes a toll on more than just the victims.
THE TRUE COSTS OF BULLYING
We’ve all seen how bullying can be emotionally, socially and even physically damaging to victims. But bullying is also associated with monetary costs that impact schools, health care systems, and society as a whole, according to a study conducted by the High Mark Foundation.
Cost to Schools:
School bullying correlates with increased suspensions, expulsions, alternative placements and drop-outs. Other students report skipping school or going home “sick” to avoid bullies. These disciplinary actions and avoidance measures combine to cause lower average daily attendance rates (ADA), which means less funding for schools, according to the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
For example, in a school with 1,000 students, if 60 students are absent once a month, it means 540 days of school missed. At the national average ADA rate of $40 per day, the resulting loss is $21,600 per year. Add to that the administrative costs of suspensions and expulsions, which NASSP estimates at $170 per incident. Plus, there’s a loss of ADA funds for each day that suspended or expelled students are out of school. Each three-day suspension costs an additional $120, totaling $17,400 in suspension costs for an average school year. Expulsions may cost $75,400 annually.
Of course, if bullying causes students to drop out or change schools, it can cost a district significantly more in lost revenue from state reimbursements for enrollment. For an average school with relatively low dropout rates, this could cost upwards of $2,160,000 a year.
Even if bullied students stay in school, their grades may pay the price. A study reported in the Journal of Early Adolescence linked bullying with low achievement in school, accounting for grades dropping by as much as a letter grade and a half. Another study presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association suggested that the prevalence of bullying doesn’t just affect individuals; it impacts schoolwide performance on standardized achievement tests, lowering overall scores by 3-6 percent. If scores drop too low, or if too few students pass, schools may lose their state accreditation as another indirect cost of bullying.
Bullying might be one of the reasons why many students are falling so far behind before they even enroll in ECOT. Yet, ECOT still bears the brunt of the resulting on-time graduation statistics.
Cost to health care:
The same study from High Mark says more than 30% of students who are bullied suffer from mental health disorders, at a cost of $3,567 per student over 18 months. Nearly half of bullied students deal with alcohol abuse at some point, at a cost of $2,150 per student. Even minor ailments like abdominal pain and headaches in more than 16% of bullied students can cost from $600 to nearly $1,500 per student.
At these rates, even if only 10% of bullied students seek treatment for mental health disorders, the associated health care costs would exceed $1 billion.
Cost to society:
Research from High Mark also showed that students who experience bullying are more likely to later be involved with the justice system and depend on public assistance. Every year, this drains up to $951,327 of resources from justice and social service systems. The long-term impact of these costs can be staggering, especially if you consider costs over a 25-year span, totaling $23,783,179.
Clearly, bullying cuts much deeper than a teenager’s self-esteem. The problem is not isolated to individual students who are affected. The widespread impact of bullying can cost schools tens of thousands, if not millions, while contributing billions to health care costs and, over time, causing a financial burden on societies that have to deal with the aftereffects.
Looking at that big picture of the crushing long-term impact of bullying, do you really expect students who have been bullied to simply shrug off this burden and graduate in four years? Do you still think it makes more sense to look at on-time graduation rates than to consider the potential savings of breaking the bullying cycle by helping these students stay in school and graduate, even if it may take a little longer than usual?
But who cares about the true costs of bullying, anyway? The Ohio Department of Education has a responsibility to care. Teacher’s unions should care. Ohio legislators should care. And clearly, taxpayers should care, because they’re ultimately the ones contributing to the drain of ALL public school funding, health care costs, and resources from justice and social service systems that correlate with increased school bullying.
If you look beyond the numbers at the big picture, though, bullying can cost students their futures — and it’s difficult to ignore the importance of that. For students like Sydney DeBerry, as teasing escalates into bullying and harassment at school, it’s hard to focus on academics over fear. Bullied students like Sydney battle depression and anxiety, which can contribute to the risk of suicide, especially in minority students.
There is hope, though, because progressive schools like ECOT care about the costs of bullying, too, especially when it comes to a student’s potential. ECOT provides a safe, supportive environment for students to engage in online education from the comfort of their own homes. The tools and curriculum are specifically designed to let students focus on learning instead of the drama and fear of bullying that can overshadow academics in traditional institutions.
This environment gave Sydney the confidence to come out of her shell, discover her own identity, and even express herself on the camera as the first anchor of ECOTtv. ECOT transformed her from the shy bullied kid into a social butterfly. Sydney, who graduated in 2014 and recently started her own business, is outgoing and charismatic now when she says, “You would have no idea that I was once depressed and suicidal. …I actually got an education—a healthy education—at ECOT. … I thank ECOT for helping me develop into the young woman I am now, because my self-confidence is through the roof.”
ECOT PALS has collected several other stories from students (and parents of students) who were bullied at school until they found safety, confidence and opportunity at ECOT. There are countless examples of students who refused to become bullying statistics that would cost society millions of dollars, and instead made a choice to pursue an education at ECOT.
It’s terribly unfortunate that ECOT would be reduced to the outdated statistic of an on-time graduation rate in exchange for its role in helping these students overcome bullying to obtain their diplomas and change their lives. It’s simply a broken measure that doesn’t reflect what truly makes a school successful today.
I’d argue that the real bullies in this situation are the anti-school-choice agenda-pushers who are still touting ineffective measurements to make a case against online charter schools like ECOT. Their bias only paints a partial picture of the complicated factors that determine a student’s path toward graduation, and disregards obstacles like bullying that may cause students to fall behind before they even enroll in ECOT. These efforts to block school choice are already costing Ohio taxpayers millions of dollars and have been for years.
So who are the real bullies here?
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